After a crushing 1-2 weekend against league-leading Nebraska last weekend, Maryland baseball opened a three-game weekend set against the Big Ten-fourth Ohio State Buckeyes on Friday.
After a pitching-first affair through the first five frames, Maryland centerfielder Chris Alleyne stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the sixth. The senior recognized a low and in pitch, pulling his hands in and lining the ball into the corner in left. The bases emptied in a hurry, adding three more runs to a seven-run sixth.
A dominant pitching performance from starter Sean Burke and the bullpen carried the Terps to a 10-6 victory, improving their record to 11-12 on the season.
“Obviously that’s a great win for us tonight. Any time you come out on a Friday night against a really good team and find a way to get it done, it's huge,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “Really good team win to start the weekend, but one game isn’t what we came to do.”
Burke worked his first clean opening inning in three weekends, flashing an overpowering fastball and deceptive changeup and giving the Maryland lineup an opportunity to strike first.
Ohio State starter Garrett Burhenn retired the Terps in order in the bottom of the frame, and Buckeyes first baseman Conner Pohl turned on a Burke fastball for a bomb of a home run to right. Although merely one run, the Terps faced another early deficit in the series opener.
That deficit wouldn’t last for long. After a crisp double play erased first baseman Maxwell Costes’ leadoff walk, shortstop Benjamin Cowles was plunked by a curveball and left fielder Tucker Flint laced an RBI double to the right-center gap to tie the game at one apiece.
The Terps pulled ahead by a run in the third. Center fielder Chris Alleyne walked and swiped his seventh bag of the season, tagged up on a line out to center by Randy Bednar, and scored on Matthew Shaw’s reached-on-error.
“For me, my job is just to get in a position where [my teammates] can drive me in,” Alleyne said. “That’s what I did today, and I’ll try to continue to do.”
Burhenn would settle down after giving the Terps the lead, pitching two consecutive no-hit innings to give his offense a chance to climb back into the contest.
And climb back, they did. After four innings of one-hit, seven strikeout baseball from a much improved Burke, the Buckeyes retied the game on the back of a Brent Todys double and Nick Erwin safety squeeze bunt.
Despite surrendering two runs (one earned), Burke looked like the draft-ready pitcher he was expected to be this season on Friday. The redshirt sophomore worked six innings with nine strikeouts on a cold and windy night in College Park, surrendering just three hits and flashing overpowering stuff on the mound.
“The last couple of weeks was just a lot of learning for me ... I feel like this outing was one of the most prepared outings I've done, just from knowing what Ohio State does and using that to develop a game plan,” Burke said. “I think it was a really well-thought-out game plan, I was really prepared for the game.”
He displayed his pro-level repertoire one final time on Friday, striking out the dangerous Colton Bauer with Zach Dezenzo, the go-ahead run, dancing down the third baseline in the sixth.
Left-hander Patrick Murphy replaced Burhenn in the bottom of the frame and inherited runners on first and third. With Flint at the plate, Murphy uncorked a fastball over the head of Todys to push in Shaw from third and give the Terps a 3-2 lead.
The Terps drove in another run after catcher Justin Vought was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, and Alleyne lined a bases-clearing double down the left-field line to blow the game open. Alleyne came around to score on a passed ball by Todys, and Maryland took advantage of sloppy play and walks to take an 8-2 lead into the top of the seventh.
The Terps added another run on a Tommy Gardiner sac-fly, and the ten-run effort from Maryland’s offense would be more than enough to earn the Terps a win.
“Winning the first game, especially at home, is really important,” Burke said. “This week we had a really set plan, both offensively and defensively, going into this game and we’re looking to stay to that tomorrow and Sunday.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s offense was clutch early on against Burhenn. The Terps battled to score while Friday’s game was still a pitcher’s duel early on. Rightfielder Tucker Flint’s clutch two-out double and Shaw’s error-forcing hustle up the first baseline created two runs out of just one hit of offense through the first four frames. It’s the situational hitting that Maryland has needed in their losses this season; seven of their twelve losses have come with a deficit of three runs or less.
“Burhenn’s two-seamer is elite. It’s 92-94 and the bottom falls out of it ... instead of us making a weak early out by beating it into the ground, we took it and extended the [at-bat] and made him continue to make pitches. I thought as a group, collectively, we did a good job of that,” Vaughn said.
2. Chris Alleyne continues to have impactful at-bats. The senior center fielder has come on as of late, turning in much more productive at-bats and creating scoring chances. His 1-4 night at the plate doesn’t show the run he manufactured in the third, in which he leveraged his speed to take extra bases and tag up on a medium-deep fly ball. Alleyne’s play in the outfield cannot be oversold either. He consistently holds extra-base hits to doubles by tracking balls in the gap down before they can cause too much damage.
“Bubba’s hit there was huge, the double was huge to clear the bases and kind of put that game away for lack of a better word,” Vaughn said. “Two-out hits are backbreakers in general, two-out bases-clearing [doubles] are a whole nother type of backbreaker. It was great to be on that side of it tonight.”
3. Randy Bednar suffered an injury in the eighth. Maryland’s star right fielder suffered a lower leg injury in the eighth as he tried to beat out an infield single. While a timeline for his return is unknown, his short-term absence will certainly have an effect on the Maryland offensive attack. The senior came into Friday’s game batting .322 on the year with three homers and 15 RBI. He has been a consistent on-base threat at the top of the Maryland lineup and will be difficult to replace in right field.
“Randy plays the game so dang hard. Most guys in a 10-3 game would’ve given you about 50% down the line, been out, and went back to the dugout,” Vaughn said. “We’ll see where he’s at. Randy was in much better spirits, he was in a lot of pain over there at first base, but he was in much better spirits after the game.”